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Following Her Lead

"I don't have much time.  I'm dying."

Her eyes were focused on mine, willing me to accept along with her the words she spoke.

I'd quasi-prepared in my mind to talk about death prior to my trip, but I felt numb—almost tingly.  She was dying.  In the moment, devastation about Em's impending departure from the only world I know was replaced by stress about what I should or shouldn't say.

"Is there anything I can do for you?  On your behalf?  Help you do?"

"There's not enough time," she said softly.

We sat in silence for a few moments.

"Do you want me to call your pastor?  Is your spiritual house in order?"  Mine wasn't.

"No.  I'm okay."  She was so calm.

We continued to sit in silence.  She looked at me for a long time before turning her head to stare straight ahead.  Everything was slow, her movements, her speech.

On her bed that Thursday afternoon, my friend Wendy (nicknamed Em) released the team reins and decided to let her carriage coast to a stop.  She looked at me again and said, "This sucks."

She was brave.  I didn't feel that she was scared about where she was going, but at 43 and the mother of a young boy who's battling cancer himself, she didn't want to leave where she was.

We had that conversation on Thursday, March 31, 2011.


Throughout our friendship, which began in late 1985 [or early 1986], we processed many life situations together.  Once we got to the root of our feelings, often the next step was... So, now what do I say to [friend, boyfriend, roommate, teacher, boss, parent, spouse, child].  We strategized the big communications.


I remained in Phoenix for three more days and was able to spend meaningful time with Em.  At the end of my visit one day—not the last, because I intended to return the next morning—I approached her and let her know I was getting ready to leave.  I didn't want to say "goodbye".  I told her I would be back the next day, we hugged and kissed, but the reality was no one really knew when her time might be, so the ache was palpable when a loved one left her.

In her calm, soft voice, my sweet friend said, "See you later."


I returned the following morning.  She was tired and she hurt, which were feelings she'd experienced every day since early January when she was told her ovarian cancer had returned.  The fatigue and pain were like a boulder rolling down hill.  Momentum roared her last few weeks.

That beautiful spring day, April 3, 2011, was the last time I would see Em.  We both knew it.  I had to return to my life in Utah.  She scolded me for leaving that life to visit her, but stopped immediately when I asked her what she would do if I was the one who was sick.

Heavy moments were too much for Em.  They're exhausting as a well person.  She didn't want or need intense goodbyes with tissues and tears.

We hugged, kissed and exchanged I love yous

"I'll see you later," I said.

She replied with one more, "I love you."


Wendy died on April 18, 2011, surrounded by her mother, two brothers, sister and sister-in-law.  Amazing, compassionate, strong people.

Reader Comments (19)

I'm in tears and sending you all prayers and hugs.
May 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterchristy
Ahhh, Chrisy....she did it with dignity and grace...we should all be so "lucky". So happy you had a chance to spend time with her...again, it doesn't always work that way. Doesn't mean this didn't make me sob like a baby this morning, but thanks....every reminder to enjoy it while we have it is apreciated. Love, M
May 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMulva
Chris, I'm so sorry for your loss of such a dear friend, but glad you were able to be with her near the end. Life is not fair sometimes, no two ways about it. I agree with the comment above, thanks for a reminder to appreciate what we have, in the now. It's easy to get lost in what-ifs.xoJudy
May 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJudy
Oh, Chris, what a beautiful tribute to your friend to give her the gift of your writing. Her spiritual house and yours seem to me to be perfectly in order, and aligned.

I'm sorry for your loss. I love you, dear one.
Oh Chrisy, I just want her back so bad!

May 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWendy's sister
I am so sorry for your loss Chrisy - and of course for her family - may there be some peace found in the many memories you have of her..
May 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermary
Thank you, Christy. You've been supportive from the beginning. xo
May 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris
She DID do it with dignity and grace, Mulva. Thank you for saying so. Love, Chrisy
May 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris
She's a loss to many, Judy. Her memorial service was last weekend [4/30] and attended by hundreds. Thank you. I miss YOU. xo
May 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris
I don't know that my post was "beautiful" or even a proper tribute, but there are too many personal details to include. I don't have Em here to ask her permission. As she said, "Sucks." Love you, Cheri. xo
May 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris
Me too, sister. I tried to call her cell phone the other morning just to hear her voice. No dice. Had been disconnected. xo
May 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris
Thank you, Mary. I don't want to forget. xx
May 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris
Cancer is such a cruel part of life. The only grace is that we have time to say goodbye.
May 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermichael.offworld
We lost a great girl, the world gained an angel. I guess you could say Wendy was an angel before she left. I can close my eyes and see that sweet, innocent face.

Hugs all around, life is too damn short.I love you!! xoxoxo

May 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNikki
I'm so sorry that you lost your friend. So glad that you got to spend time with her.

Love you! WIsh I could give you a big hug.
Words fail. I'm just so very sorry.
May 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertinsenpup
The post made me tearful - but the comments section is heartbreaking. I can't imagine leaving my children now - especially if one was sick. There really isn't anything you can say to make any of it sound okay. I'm so sorry.
May 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKate Coveny Hood
Such a sad, moving and utterly beautiful tribute. I am so very very sorry for your loss - and that of her family.
May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLady Fi
So touching! What a wonderful friendship you two shared. I am so sorry!!
May 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTeri Frank

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